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Mar
2016
11

El Paso Raises Wage Theft Ante, Will Forbid Violators from Holding City Permits, Licenses

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The El Paso City Council has passed an amendment to its existing wage theft ordinance that will allow it to withhold city licenses from businesses that have been found guilty of wage theft.  Prior to last night’s vote the city could only crack down on businesses that had contracts with the city.  The vote was more than a year in the making and disallows certain city permits, licenses, and registrations from going to businesses with a wage theft adjudication.  

Rep. Michiel Noe, ironically case the only no vote.  Noe likened the ordinance to a debtors prison, saying “I don’t want to prevent people from working for a crime they may not have committed.”  Most in attendance, however, were supportive of the measure. Local resident Chris Benoit told the council: “This is only targeting companies who have been ordered by an appellate court to pay wages due to employees and still don’t pay.”

The industries most likely to be affected by the amendment include food handling establishments, laundries, dealers of second-hand goods, vendors, contractors, and flea market operators.  

A breakdown of how the amendment will work and how it was crafted comes from the El Paso Herald-Post:

After an extensive research and outreach period, staff returned with today’s recommended amendment which will now allow the City to deny a business’s permit and license application for a period of five years from the wage theft adjudication judgment date.

The approved amendment will also allow for businesses that have been denied a permit or license to appeal the decision.

City staff may grant an appeal if the employer provides proof that the wage theft adjudication has been annulled, withdrawn, overturned; employer provide proof of full payment of outstanding wage theft adjudication judgment; five years or more has passed since the date of the employers most recent wage theft adjudication; or if the wage theft adjudication is not applicable to the employer.
Tuesday’s approved amendment will go into effect immediately.

A similar bill was proposed on the state level in the last legislative session but was voted down.  Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), that bill’s sponsor, State Senator Jose Rodriguez, Commissioner David Stout, and Bishop Mark Seitz all wrote letters to the El Paso City Council calling for stricter wage theft enforcement.  

KVIA 7 recently examined how severe El Paso’s wage theft problem is:

The Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, in 2011, did a study of how many workers have been victims of wage theft and say the problem is rampant. For example, they say as many as 67% of low wage workers aren’t paid the overtime they’re owed.

According to the study, more than 50% of low wage workers in El Paso have experienced wage theft, especially those in domestic work or construction. Christina Morales, a sociologist who worked on the study said more than half of household workers in El Paso live below the poverty level.

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